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Ammatoa: People of the Frontier (Indonesia)


Published 2008


This documentary by University of Hawaii Asian Studies MA student Sapril Akhmady, begins at a time when the Ammatoa people are feeling deeply disturbed about ongoing changes in their community. They feel as if they are facing currents of transformation that will fundamentally affect their culture and their traditional way of life. The system of agriculture has been changed; machines for activities like paddy pounding have been introduced, modern roads have been built around villages, and customary land has been taken away. Underlying all of these changes is the fact that traditional knowledge has been lost and that the younger generation is less concerned about retaining this knowledge. Indeed, what concerns the Ammatoa most is this changing mind set, changes in ways of thinking and even changes in religious values. Their ancestors inherited a prominent element known as "Pasang", or messages from the ancestors. For generations the "Pasang" have been the fundamental basis of Ammatoa religious life. They are increasingly aware, however, that the influence of formal education among the younger generation has brought new values and new materialistic leanings. Many Ammatoa fear that these alterations are leading their community far away from their traditional life style, where they are taught to live in a spiritually simple manner.

The history of the Ammatoa people shows clearly that they are able to deal with change. They have their own strategies that have enabled them to survive and given them an identity as a unique cultural community that to this day maintains the cultural heritage of their ancestors. Through culturally complex adaptation, they have survived influences from outside that have been extremely destructive. Legends and mythology recount Ammatoa history from pre-colonial times during the Gowa kingdom, through the colonial era and on through the New Order period.

These stories are not just accounts of communal successes for they tell of the loss of customary lands, and the cultural domination of outsiders. In this way, the firm belief in the truth of the "Pasang" represents a cultural triumph and helps explain their ability to survive in the Tana Toa village although their numbers are small.

The most pressing question is whether the Ammatoa will be able to survive when confronted with the changes found among the people themselves and the world in which they now live. The Ammatoa believe that “if custom is lost, if the sacred forest is destroyed, that will be the end of human beings.” It remains to be seen whether the Ammatoa can maintain their cultural balance based on the close relationship between their spiritual life and the fragile environment in which they live.

Sapril Akhmady also published an article on the Ammatoa entitled The Ammatoa of South Sulawesi, Indonesia in the journal Explorations.


Producer University of Hawaii Center for Southeast Asian Studies
Audio/Visual sound, color
Contact Information Center for Southeast Asian Studies University of Hawaii at Manoa<br> 1890 East-West Road, Moore Hall 416<br>Honolulu HI 96822 <br>tel: +1 808 956 2688 <br>fax: +1 808 956 2682 <br><a href="mailto:cseas@hawaii.edu">email</a> <br><a href="http://www.hawaii.edu/cseas/index.php">web</a>

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